As we enter October, some cities are facing crisp, invigorating fall weather, while others are still in the thick of the balmy days that signify late summer. This just means all drink styles are a “go,” whether a cool mix of gin, Greek yogurt and ouzo or a warming, spirituous sipper of Japanese whisky and oloroso sherry. From Phoenix to Charlotte, these are the 11 bars serving cocktails worth drinking now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great drinks this month? Try making the Monastery from this list at home.
Phoenix’s restaurant-and-bar tribute to man’s best friend, Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails, turns out brisket sliders and fried green tomatoes alongside a playful cocktail menu from head bartender Phil Clark, who recently took over the bar, coming from greats like Mockingbird Hill in Washington, D.C. His Boba Tea is a boozy tribute to Taiwanese bubble tea, with a bracing base of chai-infused Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, black-tea-infused Tito’s Handmade vodka and cinnamon syrup, creamy with coconut milk and dusted with nutmeg. Slurp up those tapioca pearls, contrasted by dry, tannic black tea and luxurious coconut.
In just a year, Kevin Diedrich and crew have made P.C.H. one of S.F.’s best bars for inspired drinks in all spirit categories. If you’re not ordering from the hidden menu of hip-hop-named drinks like the Rump Shaker, you’ll do right with any regular menu cocktail. The silky Leeward Negroni with coconut-washed Campari and pandan cordial is as good as it gets. Pandan leaves show up again in the Kung Fu Pandan, whose buttery marzipan notes are amplified when salted and combined with Kikori Japanese whisky and lemon, given subtly sweet and earthy notes from sake and a dusting of dried candy cap mushroom.
We’ve long been a fan of The Gin Joint, which turns out some of Charleston’s most creative cocktails in a candlelit space, thanks to barman-turned-owner James Bolt. His latest cocktail menu continues to show off what happens when a skilled hand plays with a range of ingredients. More than five ingredients in a cocktail can get fussy, but Bolt weaves a range of aspects together seamlessly, paired with snacks like pad Thai popcorn. Take the King Coco cocktail, a vibrant combination of curry-infused Clément rhum agricole, undergirded by the anise notes of Batavia-arrack, crisp dry vermouth, lemon, coconut and Yellow Chartreuse and for a Southern twist, charred okra and chili oil. It’s simultaneously savory and tropical.
Hidden upstairs overlooking Maple Tree Square in Vancouver’s lively Gastown neighborhood, The Diamond is a local favorite since opening in 2009. The restaurant rolls out nigiri, sushi and teriyaki in a dim, seductive space, but the cocktails are the real draw here. The cocktail It Happened in Athens happens to be a looker, thanks to a whisper of blue curaçao, imparting an almost soft sky blue to gin, Greek yogurt, coconut and lime. It goes down silky with echos of the Mediterranean, leaning specifically Greek, thanks to the yogurt and a splash of ouzo.
Besides being one of Louisville’s great restaurants for New American food, The Fat Lamb is an unexpected cocktail haven, thanks to cocktail curator Brennon Staples. The Best Friend cocktail showcases local distillery great Copper & Kings brandy, subtly infused with strawberry rhubarb and balanced by Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, lemon, Carpano bianco vermouth and a touch of absinthe. It’s bracing yet sings of summer with tart fruit and the aromatics of a lush garden.
In San Diego’s Art Deco US Grant hotel, Grant Grill has been going strong since 1951. In the lounge, “chef de bar” Cory Alberto goes seasonal and creative with his fall Aviation menu, a tribute to San Diego’s flight history dating back to 1927 when Charles Lindbergh departed the city for his nonstop transatlantic flight. The Fokker G.1 is a Bols-genever-based cocktail, pink with a strawberry rhubarb shrub, laced with liquid cream cheese, whole grain mustard seed syrup, pepper and oak essence and served from a light bulb glass (referencing Dutch genever and WWII Dutch planes landing in Amsterdam's Red Light District). The drink is tart and lively with the shrub’s vinegar, silky with cream cheese and given savory, woody notes from the pepper, oak and mustard seed.
With its cozy bistro setting, sidewalk seating and chic mussel-shell wallpaper, La Moule is a welcoming neighborhood mussels-and-beer kind of brasserie that feels as appropriate for a family meal as it does a romantic date. Bar manager Anna Moss ensures elegant but easy-drinking cocktails to complement the joys of Korean mussels and frites or irresistible poutines in Reuben or Po’Boy form. The Gainsbourg cocktail is named after the great French singer Serge Gainsbourg. It makes a briny, crisp apéritif or food pairing with Beefeater gin, Dolin dry vermouth, lemon zest and bracing cornichon brine.
Expat Massimo Stronati’s destination-worthy cocktail menu at Palo Alto’s Vina Enoteca features the Stan, a booze-forward drink where he shows off Nikka Taketsuru Japanese whisky and oloroso sherry in the deliciously complex cocktail. Noilly Prat dry vermouth and Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Aphrodite bitters add textural layers, while olives marinated in salt, fino sherry and Cocchi vermouth impart a briny, green taste of the sea to the elegant sipper.
Charlotte’s Stoke draws in diners for its hearth-fired meats and regional country hams. Director of eat and drink Sean Potter riffs off a classic Margarita with his South by Southwest, served in a French coffee press. This allows guests to control the infusion or steeping of the coffee-free cocktail. Lunazul reposado tequila shines, illumined by lime and agave nectar, given summery life with muddled fresh blueberries, basil, grapefruit bitters and habanero shrub bitters. The longer you steep, the spicier the habanero bitters get.
Arlington’s lively all-day café Baba opened last spring with a cocktail menu that occasionally showcases Eastern European spirits like rakia (fruit brandies popular throughout the Balkans). The Monastery cocktail features another Eastern European spirit, slivovitz (plum brandy), highlighting the intense plum flavors of Maraska slivovitz and plum jam with the herbaceous green of fresh basil.
Otoro at The Mirage Las Vegas is a sleek lounge where a twist on the Long Island Iced Tea goes elegant, served in a Japanese tea pot with dry ice. First, the base is a spirituous mix of Atlantico rum, Tequila Fortaleza, Lejay crème de cassis and Deep Eddy sweet tea vodka, all brightened by lemon. The Mirage director of beverage Robert Conlon wanted to make a Long Island Iced Tea that actually tasted like tea, infusing black tea with the sweet tea vodka and incorporating dry ice as it pours from the pot for a little drama.
Mixing your cocktail